I completed my first college degree at Lee University in 2001. One of the most important factors for why I chose Lee is the school’s unapologetic Christian grounding. I wanted to study in an environment that would not marginalize me as a Christian. Not every student at Lee is a Christian. Not every professing Christian at Lee is a political conservative. Like every campus in the U.S., there was diversity of thought. Unlike those campuses, there was a general tone of respect and decorum. That mattered then and should still matter now.
Lee scored a visit from the highest ranking government official in years when Vice President Mike Pence participated in a campaign event on behalf of U.S. House Representative Marsha Blackburn last month. This was the typical kind of campaign stop that we often see going into midterm elections. It was a big deal for the city of Cleveland, the first time a Vice President has come to town.
There were bound to be some who were displeased. The thing about the Cleveland and Lee University communities is that those kind of disagreements are usually respectful. Unfortunately, there were individuals who decided to play by a different set of rules this time around. A few Lee students and alums took to social media to protest, using ad-hominem language that is beneath their dignity. The Cleveland Daily Banner amplified this banter as news. It was disappointing to see even a small number of fellow members of the Lee community show disrespect when given an opportunity to applaud our alma mater at the national level.
In-person and social media protesters described Blackburn’s event organizer, and even the Vice President, as racists. This is the kind of terminology that has become prevalent in policy discourse. It is dehumanizing. Personal attacks do not convince critics, but drive the wedge between people deeper. Though not all students at a Christ-centered campus agree on matters of policy, they should be examples of how to disagree respectfully. That is how it was when I attended Lee. Anyone professing Christian faith as being influential to life should never lower themselves to a standard of cable news manners. We are better than that.
To credibly protest a person or event, it helps to live like you believe it. Lee alum Joshua Swem charged that Vice President Pence is a “bigot.” Protesters based that charge on moral disagreement between conservative policymakers and proponents of LGBT political advances. According to some Lee students participating in protests, a traditional moral worldview is “unChristian.” The natural question that statement raises is why these individuals would apply to and attend an openly Christian school that requires all students to sign and abide by a covenant of traditional morality. Do these same students also protest the university standards of personal conduct and faith teachings? This disconnect between life choice and expression exposes the virtue signal.
It is fair to criticize policy. It is disingenuous to criticize it from a position of faith, while embracing tactics that go against scriptural teachings. Lee student and protest organizer Mercedes Harris justified the protests in a quasi-religious tone, saying that there are no political parties in God’s Kingdom. I agree, and am thankful for it. There are many things likely not in “God’s kingdom,” including universities and protests. Yet these are things that are part of our world. Principle demands that to protest one thing because it will not exist in Heaven, logically you must protest everything else that will not be in Heaven. The resulting consumer and lifestyle decisions would make life exceedingly hard. Lee student Hunter White, said that Vice President Pence does not represent Christianity. Likewise, Mr. White is mistaken to think that he alone judges faith.
I applaud Lee University leadership for opening the campus to be a place for dialogue. The school has welcomed voices from both sides of the ideological spectrum for years now, even sending its premier vocal group, Voices of Lee, to perform at President Obama’s second inauguration. Some members of the Lee community were concerned about the perception this might create of political endorsement. Those concerns appropriately remained respectful.
On August 17th, the school will host democratic candidate for U.S. Senate: Phil Bredesen. There are students and alumni who are not thrilled that a pro-abortion politician will grace the Lee stage. However, none of them are making personal attacks on the former governor. Neither does the Cleveland Daily Banner appear to be on the lookout for social media unrest. Though I disagree with Bredesen on some matters of policy, I hope that the entire Lee community will model what respect and decency truly look like during his campaign visit on Friday.
Those of us who appreciate the role that Lee University and the City of Cleveland played in our lives are the recipients of great investment. The return on that demands better of us than to join the chorus of toxic rhetoric.
Copyright 2018 Chase Spears All Rights Reserved
My opinions are my own and do not reflect any official policy of the Department of the Army Office of the Chief of Public Affairs, the Department of the Army or the Department of Defense.
Image courtesy of J. Steven Conn